Ethnography Primer

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Ethnography Primer

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  • 1. Ethnography DesignAn Ethnography Primer

2. Ethnography is a tool for better design.Great design always connects with people. Designers inspire, provoke, validate, entertain and provide utility for people. To truly connect, designers need to have compassion and empathy for their audiences. Designers need to understand the relationship between what they produce and the meaning their product has for others.Enter ethnography.1 3. A designer should care about ethnography becauseEthnography informs design by revealing a deep it can help produce more compelling, innovative design that really connects with usersin a way that understanding of people and how they make creates delight.sense of their world. Darrel Rhea, design research consultant Ethnography is a research method based onobserving people in their natural environmentrather than in a formal research setting. When ethnography is applied to design, it helpsdesigners create more compelling solutions. 23 4. People and culture are incredibly complex.Ethnography offers a way to make sense If you want to understand what motivates a guyto pick up skateboarding, you could bring him into of this complexity. It lets us see beyond oura sterile laboratory and interrogate him or you preconceptions and immerse ourselves in thecould spend a week in a skatepark observing himinteracting with his friends, practicing new skills world of others. Most importantly, it allows us to and having fun. Ethnography is observing peoples see patterns of behavior in a real world contextbehavior in their own environments so you can geta holistic understanding of their worldone that patterns that we can understand both rationallyyou can intuit on a deeply personal level. and intuitively.LiAnne Yu, cultural anthropologist 45 5. Ethnography is a systematic process.Trained ethnographers derive deeper insightsWhile useful ideas can emerge during casual from observational and immersive research than other people do. Just like professional designers,observation, the most powerful insights come from professional ethnographers have well-developed a rigorous analysis of systematically collected data. frameworks, processes and tools that helpDuring research, a trained ethnographer will collect them be more efficient, more effective and more creative. A good ethnographer will actively photos, video, audio and other contextual data. encourage designers and others to participate in These photos or images may look unpolished or the process and in so doing, will fundamentally expand their way of seeing. rough. However, the beauty of ethnography isthat what one observes is visually compelling, real Keren Solomon, ethnographerand meaningful without being staged. 67 6. Ethnography allows us to... 8 9 7. Discover meaningPeople have a need for meaning in their lives. By examining the artifacts that reflect peoplesEthnography provides rich insights into howlives, we learn what they value and hold dear.people make sense of their world. For example, As a result, we can design products and servicespeople incorporate rituals into their livesbutthat evoke meaningful experiences for them.some rituals are large and public while others aresmall and private.10 11 8. Understand normsCultural norms influence design decisions. By examining how people express themselves through style and ornamentation, we gain insight intoEthnography reveals the ways in which cultural norms how people define themselves within a group or ashape peoples perceptions. For example, some culturesemphasize the shape of the body and seek ways to community.accentuate it, while others try to minimize it. The role and As a result, a companys brand and products willuse of color can also vary greatly from place to place.resonate with customers instead of striking a culturally off-key note. 12 13 9. Make communications powerful Things need to be understood. By observing how people process information,we learn what words and design elements evokeEthnography helps us learn how to communicatedesired reactions. We also discover whethermore effectively with target audiences, in apeople miss information completely.language and way they really understand. Forexample, a poorly designed communications As a result, the message comes acrosspiece can create confusion or anxiety.more clearly.14 15 10. Be worldlyEthnography enables us to create for the By examining local tastes, we see opportunities thatglobal marketplace.are new and exciting.Ethnography helps us learn how products, As a result, we can create brand experiences that aretechnologies, and communications flow in the both globally consistent and locally relevant.global world. Branding, experience designand point of purchase elements all tell a story.Compare how experiences work around theworld, even for the same products and services.1617 11. Observe realityWhat people say is not what they do.By observing what people do (rather than takingthem at their word), we learn more about theEthnography highlights differences between whatchoices they make and how they perceive andpeople perceive they do and what they actuallyfilter their own actions.do. For example, while people say they eat in ahealthy way, they sometimes make less-than- As a result, we can create environments orhealthy food choices. messages that connect with peoples realemotions and intentions. 18 19 12. Identify barriersBehaviors provide clues to where problemsBut an experienced ethnographer goesexist. beyond the obvious and sees how to make the experience even bettersuch as putting the cupEthnography vividly identifies peoples pain holder on the left (where its easier to reach whilepoints and guides the way towards solutions. driving) rather than in the center console (where itFor example, the obvious solution to improve the can be distracting).morning commute is a cup holder. Seeing these nuances means that the resulting products make peoples lives truly easier.20 21 13. Steps in ethnographic researchEthnographers and designers work together toincorporate ethnography into the design process. 2223 14. 1 Define the problem What are the issues? The team may have veryspecific questions or just a general sense that 2 Find the peopleWho are the people who can most likely shed light on the questions? Is it somebody whomore information is needed about a topic. They uses certain products or acts a certain way?put the problem into words to give it structureIs it somebody who changes or impacts howand to nail down the objective. This serves as the others act? Are they people who live in a certaincreative brief in the quest for insights.environment, culture or geographic location? ETHNOGRAPHER DESIGNERETHNOGRAPHER DESIGNERHelps all stakeholders Articulates a clear and Defines and finds the best Confirms that the peopleunderstand the questions actionable brief. Helps types of people to study.meet the criteria of the brief.and the role researchdefine the information andcan play.deliverables needed to communicate research findings effectively to the client. 24 25 15. 3 4Plan an approachCollect dataFigure out a game plan for observations Meaningful insights dont come quickly. Theand interactions with respondents. Create a process involves slowing down, taking everythingset of questions to ask consistently. Include in, using all five senses and being curious.opportunities for people to show what they own, Attitudes, mannerisms, vocabulary and groupwhat they value and how they do things. dynamics are all important. Of particular interestis how what you observe supports or contradictswhat people say. Take photographs, video,audio, handwritten notes and sketches. ETHNOGRAPHERDESIGNERETHNOGRAPHER DESIGNERDesigns the specific Prepares the stimuli Uses a trained eye to Participates and makesmethod for collecting data that the ethnographerprobe, ask questions andobservations of whatsand develops the tools for will use during research observe small details and taking place.conducting fieldwork.and sets frameworks fornuances. understanding data. 2627 16. 56Analyze data and interpret opportunities Share insightsThis is the most challenging part of any research. The insights that are generated throughA trained ethnographer brings deep contextualethnographic research are useful to the wholeand cultural understanding to analysis, and gets team and to the clients whole organization.beyond the obvious insights derived from casualStorytelling and information design can beobservation. used to communicate the value of the work andAnalysis is time-consuming, but links findings tothe possibilities it holds for creating somethinga concrete direction. The outcome of the analysiswonderful.may include design principles, models, personas, Information that is presented in a visuallyuser scenarios and/or experience frameworks. compelling way is more likely to intrigue,Once the data have been analyzed, the team inspire and engage. The ethnographer andshould be able to tell that story to multiplethe designer together have the ability to makeaudiences, and should have a clear set of ahas! others see and believe.and next steps. ETHNOGRAPHER DESIGNERETHNOGRAPHERDESIGNERLeads the analysis by Collaborates with theTells the story in a wayCreates a visual narrativegrounding fieldwork inethnographer to transformthat helps people embrace to accelerate knowledgeresearch training and observations and data into recommendations and transfer and buy-in withinoutside experience. a coherent and compellingcreate a shared vision. an organization.story. 2829 17. GLOSSARYDigital EthnographyGood ethnographers dont just A way to use common technologies (such as digitalask questions cameras, cell phones, and the internet) to captureethnographic insights in a cost-effective, highlypervasive manner.They delve deeply into the lives of a few peopleDiscussion Guiderather than study many people superficially.A series of questions that the resear